A 24⁄7 real-time monitoring device for animals threatened by poaching, including rhino, tiger and elephant, has been invented by a British team. Welcomed by experts as a ground-breaking new technology and potential lifeline for poached species, a new non-profit conservation organisation, Protect, is taking forward development with support from Humane Society International.
Amidst figures from Africa and Asia showing dramatic crashes in populations of rhino and elephant due to poaching, a British led team has developed a new anti-poaching device, published online on 28 April in the Journal of Applied Ecology, that could dramatically reduce poaching over the next decade.
Rhino poaching has increased some 9,300 percent since 2007 in South Africa alone, where the vast landscapes mean that even highly capable anti-poaching forces are unaware of poaching events until it is far too late. So, arrest and conviction rates are low, and there is little deterrent to poachers.
The Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti Poaching Intelligence Device) aims to solve the problem by combining a GPS satellite collar with a heart rate monitor and video camera. Broadcasting 24⁄7 real time information to a control centre, anti-poaching teams can be alerted and dispatched to poaching events within seconds of them taking place.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect, who has worked with endangered black rhino populations for more than 15 years explains:
“With this device, the heart rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pinpointing the location within a few metres so that rangers can be on the scene via helicopter or truck within minutes, leaving poachers no time to harvest the valuable parts of an animal or make good an escape. You can’t outrun a helicopter, the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise.”
The device already has the backing of leading rhino veterinarians and conservationists in South Africa, including Dean Peinke, Specialist Mammal Ecologist for the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, who said: “We simply don’t know where or when poachers might strike, to effectively patrol these vast landscapes requires an army and still poachers could find a way through; they are well organised and equipped, and they will find gaps in almost any defence because the rewards are so great.”
Protect RAPID Rhino Cam Footage; anti-poaching device field trials in South Africa:
(Source: Protect YouTube channel)
“These devices tip the balance strongly in our favour, if we can identify poaching events as they happen we can respond quickly and effectively to apprehend the poachers; it’s very exciting to be able to work with Protect on the first field trials of the Protect RAPID with our own Southern black rhino population.”
Humane Society International, which is working with the government of Vietnam on an effective education and outreach programme to reduce demand for rhino horn, has been fast to support development of the device. Claire Bass, executive director of HSI UK, comments; “Reducing market demand is critical to safeguard wildlife long term, but it needs to be coupled with urgent, effective action to stop the current poaching crisis. The Protect RAPID could be a game changer in the increasingly desperate fight against poaching, and the technology has the potential to be applied to other critically endangered species including tigers and elephants. We are excited to have this opportunity to fund the project and hope other backers will join us to get the technology into the field as quickly as possible.”
Steve Piper, a director of Protect, elaborates; “Proof of concept research has already been completed and our South African team are now preparing to fine tune prototypes in the field, we expect to have the first rhino prototypes out within months and are just beginning development on versions for tigers and elephants. We hope to have a fully functional control centre established early next year. The figures make it painfully clear; there is no time to waste, the tide has to be turned and the Protect RAPID can do it; the only thing heading for extinction over the next decade is poaching itself.”
But still, the ones being poached will end up dead — these animals are being sacrificed for the good cause: catching poachers! [Moos]
(Source: Protect press release, 20.07.2015)